Texas’ record heat wave and drought are making it especially difficult to keep plants alive and green in the summer. Last week’s scattered showers, helped revive some scorched floral and vegetable gardens, but the unforgiving temperatures are far from over.
Michael Arnold, professor of landscape horticulture and director of The Gardens at Texas A&M, has some tips for gardeners during a drought and what you can do to save your plants. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: What’s the first thing you suggest for gardeners to do before they begin maintaining their plans?
Michael Arnold: Well, preserve the gardener first. We want to be around to get to the end of the season. So wear light clothes, hydrate well and try and work in the mornings while it’s cool.
So what’s mulching and what tips do you have for irrigation since conserving water during a drought is not the easiest thing to do here in Texas?
That’s correct. Water management is obviously the key for surviving these high temperatures and drought and conserving it so that we can all enjoy it. But I would just say that the key thing is to deliver the water in low-volume applications that minimize evaporative losses. So avoid as much sprinkler-type irrigation as possible. Use drip and use mulching to conserve that moisture.
There are reports that Texas and some southern states will reach 110-degree temperatures next week. Why is timing so important for gardeners and keeping plants alive?
That’s a really good point. The biggest thing is that we want to try and keep them hydrated during the heat of the day. So doing anything we can to keep the soil moist during the day without overwatering, which sometimes we do when we’re looking at sensitive plants. One of the things I would suggest is also, if you have some very sensitive plants to sun exposure, maybe using some shade in the late afternoon would be helpful. If they’re already planted, some emergency shade cloth over critical plants might be a way to get them through to the fall.
Since we’re talking about timing when it comes to watering, I’ve heard different arguments when it comes to when is the best time to water? Is there? Is there a best time?
Well, ideally, you’d like to water them in the early morning before the evaporative pressures become high and get the plant well hydrated. One of the challenges is that we don’t want to be irrigating during the middle of the day, if possible, because that’s when we would lose that most water.
But someone said I shouldn’t be watering at night. Is there any reason one wouldn’t do that?
Yeah, that is a concern. The good news is, if you’re watering inside, you have less evaporative loss. The bad news is that you’re wearing the foliage of the plants often, and that can create problems for fungal pathogens and other disease problems if it isn’t drying off.
Let’s move to grass and larger plants like trees which are common in a lot of yards of course. The same approach, would you say? Or maybe when should gardeners begin thinking about maybe drought-tolerant plant varieties and that kind of thing.
Well, I think we ought to always be thinking about drought-tolerant because here in Texas, we’re just one interruption between droughts all the time. But that would mean that you can look at some of our central Texas plants, our West Texas plants, and then, of course, the Texas Superstar Program. Obviously, we’ve used drought tolerance as one of the selection criteria.
What is this Texas Superstar Program?
Texas Superstar Program is a cooperative plant corralling program with Texas A&M University, Texas Tech, and with industry representatives as well. So, we’ll test and then promote the very best plants that we find over large portions of Texas.
If people are thinking about moving in that direction, what plants would you recommend? What varieties would you recommend?
Well, I think a couple of pretty neat ones that are on the market this year that I really like are, of course, the Gold Star Esperanza. That is a very prolific bloomer, very drought tolerant of blooms in the heat of summer. Also, the Shower of Gold or Galphimia is an excellent plant for our summer heat. And then a couple of natives that we might consider is Hesperaloe or Red Yucca, and then perhaps the Rock Rose known as a Pavonia Hastata or Pavonia Lasiopetala.